An Argument Against Academic Elitism from a Young Academic

This is not to discredit biblical scholars and theologians with academic training–these are, after all, the people I look up to as a young scholar. There is obviously a very real benefit to formal scholastic training when it comes to biblical interpretation. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have spent the last decade in an academic setting learning from biblical scholars and theologians shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to do so. I am speaking as an academic (a baby though I might be). However much credibility a Bachelors degree in Biblical Languages and Christianity, a Master’s degree in Biblical Languages, and 15 additional graduate hours in Theological Studies with a half-written thesis might give me, I am speaking as one how has academic training. And from this perspective I still argue that academics do not have a monopoly on the biblical texts. There is no room for academic elitism when it comes to reading the scared scriptures; the spirit of elitism does not exist alongside the Holy Spirit and the work the Spirit does in whom the Spirit desires. So, while formal scholastic training is beneficial to the individual reader of scripture, the lack thereof does not automatically disqualify one from the ability to grasp the biblical texts nor should it automatically disqualify one’s contributions to a discussion or argument or whatever.

Does not the Holy Spirit play the primary role in our ability to read and understand the scriptures?

Despite what some might assume, I would not argue that any and every interpretation is credible. For one, I prefer the language used in theological interpretation of “better” readings rather than correct or accurate. I might even differentiate between plausible and implausible readings. Furthermore, I am not arguing that the best way to read the Bible is alone in isolation with just you and the Holy Spirit. To the contrary, I actually believe that to read Scripture well we need to read it in conversation with tradition and with the church, not alone in a vacuum.

What I ultimately take issue with is the idea that someone can automatically be disqualified not based on their arguments and/or methods, but on their pedigree or lack thereof. This is a shame, it reeks of academic elitism and arrogance, and does not take into account the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual believer as well as the wide access we have to information today.

A PhD does not guarantee someone is a good reader of scripture. Unless you’re N.T. Wright, of course.

– Jessica Parks (written in 2015)


Why am I here?

For those in academics, life has a pattern and it is called semesters. It is actually one of my favorite things about life in academia – a rhythm of life where seasons of intense growth are followed by seasons of fruitful rest.

Thus, every August brims with excitement and expectation as students dream about all the new year holds. From the new class of freshman and their excited but nervous looks on the first day of class…to the final semester senior and their excited but nervous thoughts about life after school, campuses fill with an energy that is hard to match in other settings because college is place where we expect to grapple with the big questions of life. And so it is that August, and its new beginning, is often a time of reflection in my life.

I stand in an interesting place in the ethos of campus life as both student and professor. On one hand, I am a student excited yet nervous about what the semester holds. (Read Stanley Hauerwas’s wonderful letter to Christian college students – here)

  • What will I encounter?
  • Whose ideas will change my perspective?
  • Whose ideas will transform me?
  • Where will I succeed?
  • Where will I fail?
  • How will I respond to success and failure?

On the other, I am a professor and my excitement and nervousness stems not from being unsure of what lies ahead (after all I did prepare the syllabus, the lectures, the assignments, and the exams) but from my desire to be faithful to the task given me as a professor.  (These ideas are drawn from Bryan Bibb’s excellent lecture – here)

  • Can I communicate in way that informs, challenges, and excites the students?
  • Can I be a model of excellence in scholarship for students?
  • Can I provide wise, faithful mentoring to students?

Therefore, as this new semester begins, I am left to ponder, “Why am I here?” As a student, what am I doing that will prepare me to be a better professor? As a professor, what am I doing that will make me and those I have the privilege of teaching better students? And even beyond that as a student and professor, what I am doing that will make me and those I encounter this semester better people…people who live in a manner worthy of our calling as students and professors. For ultimately, this is the goal for which I toil and strive.

Warp and Woof (2.15.2013)

The week in review…

Open, Generous, Connected – I had not heard of Seth Godin until a few months ago, and I am still not sure exactly what he does? But much of what he writes is applicable to both the church and academia. Interesting to think about his first term in the life of the church and the last in academia.

Conference Papers – I have only given a few papers at conferences so am I no expert, but thought John Goodrich‘s post on what to do when no one asks questions was insightful and humorous. Having experienced the awkward silence at least it is good to know I am not alone.

Academic Writing – Come on let’s join together and scream at academic writing! It is too dense! It is too jargonic (made that word up)! It is too long! Well John Elbow at OUP Blog and Rachael Cayley at Explorations of Style (great blog!) discuss why sometimes there is nothing that can be done because to explain complex, detailed, and sophisticated research can require dense writing. But I think we all agree that doesn’t mean we can quit trying to be better writers!

And if this is the end of the world at least happen quickly because all these people screaming about it drive me crazy!

And to conclude Valentine’s Day is my least favorite holiday. Hopeless romantic I am not.